“What does the Christmas story mean?” There are many answers to that question. For me, above all, the Christmas story is about the bridging of gaps, especially the distance between what is human and what is divine. The Christmas story is the story of God choosing to enter the world as a human being, so that God would know what human life is like. As a result of what theologians call “the incarnation” (God becoming flesh), we humans feel less alone. We have a God who knows what it is to experience pain, joy, laughter, doubt – all of the ups and downs that make up human existence.
Some people find no spiritual significance in Christmas at all because they trip up on the details. “I just can’t believe in the virgin birth,” someone tells me. Or, “You know, the gospel writers themselves don’t even agree on the facts.” Perhaps they would be helped by reading the writer Marcus Borg, a man of deep faith, who wrote, “These stories don’t need to be factual to be true.” Borg provides a pathway towards the person of Jesus, a route that doesn’t require a traditional belief in the facts and details of the birth story.
Regardless of one’s path, Christmas can mean a coming-together. Christmas can provide physical reunions of family members and friends. Christmas can provide spiritual reunions as we remember those we have loved who are no longer physically present. Christmas cards and traditions reunite us with our own pasts. Distances are bridged.
This week I delivered communion to church members who are homebound and in senior living facilities. These are sacred moments for me. One of my hopes is that these church members realize that they are remembered and not forgotten, that their past faithfulness to the church is honored, that the distance they may feel from their church family is shortened.
This fall our church has been given the gift of hundreds of volunteer hours from residents of two local sober living facilities in our county. Most of the men at Primary Purpose and Road to Hope are seeking to recover after heroin addiction. Because of our partnership and ongoing relationship with these two organizations, we realized that there are men living there who are anxious to get out some during the day and feel productive. They are a tremendous asset! They helped patch our driveway and parking lot, repaint our corn hole boards, and paint our Fellowship Hall, among other projects.
So Thursday we invited several of them to our annual staff Christmas potluck, to thank them for their work. We chatted together over lunch. One of them was clearly excited to be there. “I used to go to Boy Scouts here,” he said. “And I played in piano recitals here too.” He’d grown up in our community. As soon as we finished eating, he asked me if he could go into the sanctuary and play the piano. The word “yes” barely came out of my mouth before he leapt out of his chair. The rest of us were curious, watching through the glass doors.
A few seconds later, we heard music, and this caught the attention of our own organist and pianist who was still finishing lunch. Ruth walked into the sanctuary, too. We saw her leaning over, watching him play. Then we saw them talking together. And then she had joined him on the piano bench for some duets.
We sometimes think there is so much distance between us. Young and old. Those who are busy and stressed this season, and those who are lonely and sitting in nursing home rooms. Those with substance abuse disorders and everyone else…
But gaps can be bridged. Two people from different walks of life can sit on a piano bench together and make music together. It is communion. It is Christmas.